The 25 most memorable film performances of 2022

The 25 most memorable film performances of 2022

From Michelle Yeoh to Tobey Maguire to Keke Palmer, these are the big-screen MVPs, star-is-born breakouts, and unforgettable cameos from the past year

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The A.V. Club's favorite film performances of 2022: Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans, Colin Farrell in The Banshees Of Inisherin, Ana De Armas in Blonde, Austin Butler in Elvis
(Clockwise from left:) Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once (Allyson Riggs), Ana De Armas in Blonde (Netflix), Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans (Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment), Austin Butler in Elvis (Warner Bros. Pictures), Colin Farrell in The Banshees Of Inisherin (Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Actors tend to get a lot of credit when their film is a success—especially this time of year, when that little gold man is looming larger. But in compiling this list, we knew we needed to look beyond just the obvious awards contenders. Sure, we have the likes of Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once or Cate Blanchett in Tár, but we also felt it was important to train our spotlight on other performances: the new faces who simply jumped off the screen, the cameos we couldn’t stop talking about, and the roles that confirmed an actor is also a movie star. We’re only allowing one performance per film (with one notable exception, since we couldn’t resist!) and we’re including many actors who got bonus points for having a great 2022 elsewhere. Our list, which follows close on the heels of our ranking of 2022’s best films, is all about the 25 buzziest and most memorable film performances, presented chronologically by their film’s premiere date. As always, The A.V. Club encourages any and all agreement or dissent in the comments.

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2 / 26

Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Image: Allyson Riggs / Courtesy of A24

The dizzying multiverse action comedy that is The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once all but required a steadying centrifugal force at its center. And boy did they find it in Michelle Yeoh. In a bit of counterintuitive yet necessary casting, the legendary Malaysian actress not only let herself be deceivingly drab and ordinary as laundromat owner Evelyn, who’s at risk of losing her business and marriage alike, but shone even brighter as Evelyn’s many alternate versions. Bridging them all with aplomb and slowly building out the beating heart that is this mother-daughter end-of-the-world fight between good and evil, Yeoh proved why you sometimes need to embrace the “ordinary” to achieve the “extraordinary.” [Manuel Betancourt]

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3 / 26

Ram Charan & N. T. Rama Rao Jr., RRR 

Ram Charan & N. T. Rama Rao Jr., RRR 

Naacho Naacho (Full Video) RRR - NTR, Ram Charan | M M Kreem | SS Rajamouli | Vishal Mishra & Rahul

Anyone who saw RRR can forgive us for cheating on our “only one actor per film” rule here. So evenly matched and inextricably linked are N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, this hit film’s co-leads, that highlighting just one as a 2022 favorite feels wrong. As real-life anti-British revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, Charan and Rao, respectively, craft this year’s most entertaining—and touching—onscreen pairing. With just the right blend of emotionally resonant relatability and swing-for-the-fences melodrama, the Telugu film icons ground writer-director S. S. Rajamouli’s wildly imaginative historical fiction. They’ve also set a new high-water mark for cinema’s best dance number. [Jack Smart]

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4 / 26

Conrad Ricamora, Fire Island

Conrad Ricamora, Fire Island

FIRE ISLAND | “Heads Up” Clip | Searchlight Pictures

Every Pride & Prejudice adaptation—yes, even one that brings Jane Austen’s famed love story to the shores of Fire Island’s eponymous gay destination—lives or dies by its Mr. Darcy (here just “Will”). And in Conrad Ricamora, director Andrew Ahn found the dashing leading man that Joel Kim Booster’s seaside rom-com needed. Charming and handsome to boot (and with plenty of chemistry with Booster’s Noah), Ricamora is also responsible for the year’s most cringe-worthy dance sequence, easily the moment where he had us swoon over his awkward moves and made us realize, in turn, how famished we’ve been for bonafide gay romantic leads in mainstream fare. [Manuel Betancourt]

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5 / 26

Austin Butler, Elvis

Austin Butler, Elvis

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS | “Hayride” Clip

Taking on the role of Evil Presley in a glittering, gleefully frenetic Baz Luhrmann musical biopic was always going to be a tall order. Yet somehow Austin Butler’s performance as The King makes such a proposition feel almost effortless. “Almost,” because there’s no denying the amount of work it took to conjure up the gyrating spirit of one of the 20th century’s most enduring musical icons without losing sight of his frail humanity. What’s on screen is no mere mimicry (though Butler has an uncanny grasp on Presley’s mannerisms); this is an outsized portrayal that matches both its subject matter and the Luhrmann’s penchant for theatrics. It’s as broad a portrayal as you’d ever want, and as kinetic as you’d ever need. [Manuel Betancourt]

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6 / 26

Lesley Manville, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris 

Lesley Manville, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris 

Lesley Manville in Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris
Lesley Manville in Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris
Image: Liam Daniel / 2021 Ada Films Ltd - Harris Squared Kft

Playing goodness and honesty on screen can be a tall order. There are no big gestures or long monologues to rely on. You risk going unnoticed or being eclipsed by the bigger characters around you. However, Lesley Manville finds a way to beguile in Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris. Manville’s eponymous character is a middle-aged cleaner in London with a dream to buy a couture dress from the famous Dior fashion house. Mrs. Harris dares to follow her dreams no matter how frivolous, while Manville dares us not to fall in love with both character and actor. It’s a performance of quiet gestures; her hand caressing a dress, one tear dropping as she mourns her long lost husband. Manville’s so open hearted that she makes the audience root for her Mrs. Harris at every impossible juncture of her journey. The story might be a fantastical rom-com but Manville invests it with just the right amount of real-world stakes. [Murtada Elfadl]

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7 / 26

Keke Palmer, Nope

Keke Palmer, Nope

NOPE (Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya) | The Oprah Shot | Movie Clip

Is there anyone more popular in pop culture now than Keke Palmer? It seems that everything she said or did in 2022 went viral. She’s a constant meme generator and people love to quote her. Yet there’s more reason for this constant idolization than just her charming outsize temperament: Palmer is an accomplished actress who gave one of the best performances of the year in Jordan Peele’s horror satire, Nope. From the very first moment of her character’s introduction, where she delivers a monologue explaining the history of the family at the center of the story, Palmer owns Nope with charisma and swagger to spare. A brash, hurricane-like personality defines her character in contrast to her onscreen sibling, the more reserved Daniel Kaluuya. Palmer inhabits Em with such force it’s hard to look anywhere else when she’s in the frame. Aliens, flying saucers, Oscar-winning co-stars—they stand no chance as Palmer takes them all on and wins big time. And we are the beneficiaries. [Murtada Elfadl]

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8 / 26

Amber Midthunder, Prey

Amber Midthunder, Prey

Prey | Official Trailer | Hulu

The thing about actors is you don’t know if they can handle leading roles until they’re given one. It’s a catch-22, one that many character actors and supporters struggle with; how can resting the bulk of a feature film on an unproven star’s shoulders be anything but a massive risk? But that’s why breakthroughs like Amber Midthunder’s turn in Hulu’s standalone Predator thriller Prey are so satisfying. Watching her work as Naru, the Comanche would-be warrior facing the ultimate extraterrestrial foe, you marvel at the fact that she could have led countless such projects before now—and the certainty she’ll lead more in the future. Kudos to director Dan Trachtenberg, screenwriter Patrick Aison, et al., for rolling the dice on this bonafide star. [Jack Smart]

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9 / 26

Rachel Sennott, Bodies Bodies Bodies

Rachel Sennott, Bodies Bodies Bodies

Bodies Bodies Bodies Exclusive Movie Clip - Podcast (2022)

Last year, I raved about Rachel Sennott’s performance in the anxiety-inducing comedy Shiva Baby, and now we’re back to praise another knockout performance from this year. At the heart of Bodies Bodies Bodies Gen-Z satire is Sennott as Alice, the ditzy, self-absorbed friend who has a podcast she won’t shut up about. Alice was a highlight of the horror-comedy, from her quips about the importance of mental health, to trusting a mystery man simply because he’s a hot Libra moon. Sennott’s delivery of the line, “Your parents … are upper … middle class,” will go down in film history. [Gabrielle Sanchez]

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10 / 26

Justin Long, Barbarian

Justin Long, Barbarian

Justin Long’s New Movie | Official Trailer | Now In Theaters

Few cinematic moments in 2022 elicited more laughter than Justin Long stringing that tape measure deeper and deeper underground in Barbarian. To be clear, it’s nervous laughter, the kind reserved for moviegoing experiences where audiences’ only comfort is the sound of fellow spectators amid the darkness. There are many reasons to celebrate Zach Cregger’s twisted mindfuck of an instant-classic, and Long’s performance as a scummy Hollywood type—a knowing subversion of an actor we know and love—is near the top of the list. [Jack Smart]

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11 / 26

Mia Goth, Pearl

Mia Goth, Pearl

Pearl | Official Trailer HD | A24

Ti West’s X suggested there was more to its wrinkled, lusty, homicidal, confused killer Pearl, and actress Mia Goth had clearly worked out the details of a long-lived life behind all those prosthetics and old-soul eyes. In the follow-up, Pearl, she got to show it—a rare treat for method actors, and she makes the most of it. Pandemic stress and dashed hopes push Pearl over the edge, but while we feel her pain, Goth’s performance also hints that some of that crazy was always there, just looking for an excuse. [Luke Y. Thompson]

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12 / 26

Ana De Armas, Blonde

Ana De Armas, Blonde

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde
Ana De Armas in Blonde
Image: Netflix

Ana De Armas generally doesn’t look or sound anything like Marilyn Monroe, so her visual and vocal transformation alone would be enough to impress. But Blonde is no cookie-cutter biopic satisfied to recreate key moments; it’s a reckoning with what it takes to make a cinematic icon. Other movies have shown the duality between Norma Jean and Marilyn, or suggested that the human behind the image suffers. Here, we see the icon as an inherent violation. She’s smart enough both to analyze her own doomed trajectory, and understand there’s no escape from it. Other 2022 movies reckoned with solutions to institutional abuse; few performances so unsparingly depicted its ravages. [Luke Y. Thompson]

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13 / 26

Dolly De Leon, Triangle Of Sadness 

Dolly De Leon, Triangle Of Sadness 

Triangle of Sadness | Philippine Trailer | Woody Harrelson | Dolly De Leon

It is no overstatement to say that when Ruben Östlund’s class warfare satire Triangle Of Sadness swerves into its outrageously bonkers third act, the film—like its characters—is taken hostage by Dolly De Leon. Her Abigail may have eluded your attention up until then, but once she and fellow yacht survivors arrive on shore, there is no way to ignore her. Or, as it turns out, the ferocious performer who brings her to life. To watch De Leon hijack a film that had at first rightly contented itself with focusing on the laughably privileged and moneyed is a delight. Not least because her character’s survivor instincts demand you constantly wonder (in awe, no less) whether she’s upending a system or leveraging it for her own good. [Manuel Betancourt]

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14 / 26

Cate Blanchett, Tár

Cate Blanchett, Tár

Cate Blanchett in Tár
Cate Blanchett in Tár
Image: Courtesy of Focus Features

Lydia Tár is a mammoth character and Cate Blanchett comes at her with gusto. In writer-director Todd Field’s masterpiece, she’s a world-class symphony conductor in free fall. And the character is so specifically written that many thought she was a real person. That’s due in large part to Blanchett’s precise, controlled, yet somehow also free and magnetic performance. It’s a symphony in which Blanchett gets to play all her instruments—her fluency with accents, her modulated gestures, a graceful physicality—and it all comes together to deliver a gigantic character imbued with acute emotionality. In a signature scene shot in one long, flowing take, Lydia intellectually scuffles with a Juilliard student. Blanchett commands the screen, fluidly navigating the space as the camera follows her, sarcastically delivering lines and using her whole body to land a point. It’s utterly beguiling. We hang on to every gesture, every movement, every flicker of her eye. Lydia is conducting a masterclass and so is the actor playing her. [Murtada Elfadl]

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15 / 26

Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween Ends

Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween Ends

Halloween Ends - “Jamie’s Journey”

Is Jamie Lee Curtis likely to appear on award nominators’ lists for her (allegedly) last outing as Laurie Strode? No, and there’s another role of hers this year that could finally make the Oscars’ cut instead—but a list of 2022’s most notable film performances wouldn’t feel complete without her. The original scream queen deserves a shout-out for her sheer trailblazing legacy, as well as her full-bodied commitment, in Halloween Ends and all the Curtis-led slashers before it, squaring off against one of cinema’s most iconic baddies. [Jack Smart]

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16 / 26

Danielle Deadwyler, Till

Danielle Deadwyler, Till

TILL | Official Trailer 2

If acting were an Olympic sport, Danielle Deadwyler’s work in Till would take home the gold. On paper the role of Mamie Till-Mobley, the history-making mother of the murdered Emmett Till, is emotionally demanding enough to be physically taxing; all director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu needed was an actor who’d dare to pull it off. Yet to suggest that Deadwyler’s task was simply clearing this material’s high bar is to reduce her heartfelt, devastating, and utterly humane performance. When Deadwyler traverses from the deepest grief to the most searing outrage (for example, in one mind-boggling long take that spans Mamie’s court testimony and cross-examination), she reminds us what great acting is: something more than immersing completely in a character, more than transporting us to a time, place, and compelling interiority. Performances like this one are why we go to the movies. [Jack Smart]

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17 / 26

Paul Mescal, Aftersun

Paul Mescal, Aftersun

Frankie Corio, Paul Mescal in Aftersun
(L-R:) Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in Aftersun
Image: Courtesy of A24

Charlotte Wells’ video memory of a film, Aftersun, rests on the shoulders of its two leads. And while Frankie Corio more than holds her own as a precocious girl on holiday with her dad, it is Paul Mescal who carries the weight of this “emotionally autobiographical” two-hander. As a wayward father eager to connect with his daughter, a man who’s clearly being sketched out from memories and fleeting video recordings, Mescal’s Calum exists just outside the audience’s full grasp. Yet his anxieties, about money and parenting, bleed through in blink-and-you’ll-miss them sighs and suppressed-but-not-controlled cries. It’s a heartbreaking portrayal precisely for how much room it leaves for us to color in and yet how richly textured it remains. [Manuel Betancourt]

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18 / 26

Colin Farrell, The Banshees Of Inisherin

Colin Farrell, The Banshees Of Inisherin

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN | “I Just Don’t Like Ya No More” Clip | Searchlight Pictures

There’s a specific moment in a scene in The Banshees Of Inisherin that serves as a microcosm of Colin Farrell’s brilliance as poor Pádraic. Drunk as a skunk in the local pub, he begins fuming at Brendan Gleeson’s Colm, processing out loud the reasons Colm may have enacted the sudden friendship-breakup that drives Martin McDonagh’s story. “Oh, God,” he exclaims upon realizing it’s Colm, and not himself, who was never deserving of company. There’s the weight of the world in his poetic delivery of those two words, an epiphany so tragic it doubles as comedic. [Jack Smart]

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19 / 26

Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans 

Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans 

Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans, co-written, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg
Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans
Image: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

If the signature gesture in a Steven Spielberg film is one of wonder, Michelle Williams manages to offer a heartbreaking twist on it in The Fabelmans. In a darkened closet where her teenage son has organized a makeshift screening of a string of family home movies, Williams’ Mitzi watches, in disbelief, how a long-held secret has been caught on camera, her awe bleeding into sorrow and shame with such unsettling ease you cannot help but marvel at the actress’ control over the most minute of facial expressions. It may be the quintessential moment in the film, where Williams’ warm-hearted portrayal is rightly laced with something more bitter, more real, more true. [Manuel Betancourt]

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20 / 26

Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 

Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever | Official Trailer

We knew going in that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever would be an emotional viewing experience, but still, Angela Bassett brought a sense of pathos to her portrayal of Queen Ramonda that was truly next level. A regal and formidable leader who has no choice but to stand strong in the wake of great personal loss, Ramonda showed us that grief wears many faces. Even though Bassett may have initially disagreed with writer-director Ryan Coogler on the direction of her character in the film, it was great to see her get more to do this time around. She took everything he threw her way and elevated it with her magnetic presence and stature befitting the queen she is, both on screen and in real life. [Cindy White]

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21 / 26

Gabrielle Union, The Inspection

Gabrielle Union, The Inspection

Gabrielle Union in The Inspection
Gabrielle Union in The Inspection
Image: Patti Perret

Monstrous mothers have become a filmic trope unto themselves. And it takes a well-honed performer to find ways of shading such roles so as to avoid falling into well-worn stereotypes. No doubt this was part of the challenge that attracted Gabrielle Union to the part of Inez French in Elegance Bratton’s raw Marine drama, The Inspection. Playing mother to Jeremy Pope’s Ellis, a young Black gay man who turns to a life of military service to escape his unhoused circumstances, Union is all scowls and grimaces as she faces the son she once disowned. Carefully calibrating Inez’s conflicting feelings, Union paints a painful portrait of a woman saddled with and saddened by a son she cannot let herself love unconditionally. [Manuel Betancourt]

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22 / 26

Jonathan Majors, Devotion 

Jonathan Majors, Devotion 

DEVOTION - Official Trailer (HD)

We first hear Jonathan Majors in Devotion before we see him, establishing the character’s idiosyncrasies. His Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in U.S. Navy history, is muttering to himself inside the locker room, thinking he’s alone. Later on, that moment is expanded upon in a pivotal scene. Again he’s alone in the locker room, but this time he’s repeating all the racial expletives people have thrown at him. As the camera comes closer we see that he’s breathing sharply, tears coming out of his eyes and sweat from under his arms. Brown is trying to psych himself up before a mission. As the emotion plays on his face, Majors physically manifests the emotional turmoil his character’s going through. In a film where the battles and jet fighter planes should be the main attraction, it’s this moment that delivers the bombast, proving this is a, well, major actor whose star is rightfully on the rise. [Murtada Elfadl]

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23 / 26

Anna Diop, Nanny 

Anna Diop, Nanny 

Nanny - Official Trailer | Prime Video

Anna Diop has the range, and the evidence is in her performance in Nanny. In a film that is both a psychological character study and a horror film, the task facing the actor was two-fold, playing one character but in two distinct performances. In the first, she’s earthy and grounded, delivering all the complexities of a woman missing the son she left behind as she navigates a tricky job with demanding employers and falling in love despite her aching heart. In the second, she’s loose and unhinged, getting lost in a dreamlike world with her grip on reality slipping. The film demands she rise to a stylistically heightened state, which she does with aplomb. In her first leading part, Diop presents much more than a promise of a blossoming career; she announces her arrival fully formed as a star. [Murtada Elfadl]

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24 / 26

Janelle Monáe, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Janelle Monáe, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery | Official Trailer | Netflix

Curse you, Rian Johnson, for crafting such an intricately peeled mystery in Glass Onion that we’re forbidden from explaining why Janelle Monáe ranks among 2022’s best star turns. And bless you, sir, for gifting this actor a role befitting her talent. As Andi Brand, this film’s living and breathing Mona Lisa, Monáe lights up the screen—there’s one particularly sunlit shot of her in the table-setting first act that will take your breath away. And the beauty of the second act’s epic twist is that Monáe gets to revisit such moments but with the delightful added context of her comedic prowess. By the time Andi’s connection to Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc is clear, confirming them as one of this year’s most electric onscreen pairs, she’s damn well stolen the movie from him. [Jack Smart]

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25 / 26

Tobey Maguire, Babylon 

Tobey Maguire, Babylon 

Tobey Maguire in Babylon
Tobey Maguire in Babylon
Image: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Tobey Maguire’s role in Babylon is little more than a meaty cameo, and it comes so late into Damien Chazelle’s crowded, boisterous film you might forget he’s in it at all. Once he shows up as crime boss James McKay, though—with sunken eyes and a creepy yellow smile—he makes an impression that’s difficult to shake (even if you want to). In an attempt to settle a debt on behalf of reckless starlet Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), Manny (Diego Calva) finds himself face to face with McKay who, it turns out, has showbiz ambitions of his own. After pitching him some terrible movie ideas, McKay leads Manny on a journey through the dark, twisted bowels of Los Angeles in a sequence that evokes Dante’s Inferno by way of David Lynch. Maguire brings a manic glee to the character that keeps the audience off balance every precious second he’s on screen. [Cindy White]

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